I was privileged to paint plein air beside my artist friend Betty Cork yesterday. I am the proud owner of one of Betty’s paintings, the bright colors of a path under the oaks of Eden Gardens greeting me when I walk into my business office every weekday. I met Betty through the Cultural Arts Alliance. We both drew at the figure drawing sessions at Studio b for 3 years. And it was she who twisted my arm to be on the A+Art Committee which I now Co-Chair with Robin Wiesneth, showcasing CAA member artists work in the reception area and conference room of the South Walton Center of Northwest Florida State College.
The plein air painters met at Grayton Beach State Park this week. Most of the painters went to the beach to paint the misty shoreline and emerald waves, but Betty and I hiked a short way up the nature trail and set up to paint under the canopy of scrub oaks. I was looking towards the sun, so that much of the foliage was beautifully backlit, but with the sun in my eyes, it was a bit of a chore seeing the brilliance of the colors. The gnarly tree trunks were silhouetted against the bright light.
I post on Facebook photos of my work in progress and also the finished piece. I found it interesting that one of the comments on my finished piece was “That is so here!” I wonder, what is the specific visual imagery that depicts the essential character of a place, making it “here”? In this case, I think it was the combination of the palmetto bushes underneath with the twisting shapes of the scrub oak trees. The live oaks at the beach are very small, hugging and conforming to the dune line, sheared off at the top by the salty winds. On the bay, the same trees grow into massive giants, with Spanish moss dripping from the acre-wide branches.
One of the constrictions of plein air painting is that you don’t have a lot of time. Because the scene before me was so chock-full of brush and foliage, my challenge was to simplify it into layers. I painted the background foliage first, so that I wouldn’t have to take the time to try paint the negative space around the foreground shapes afterwards. The gnarly tree trunks came next, and the palmettos in the foreground were last. Betty suggested to me to put some of the oranges and very bright yellows in the palmetto leaves. She is an expert with bright color.
Below is the start of my painting, and the finished piece. Contact me if you are interested in purchasing this piece, with or without frame. — Joan Vienot
It rained for the plein air group’s outing yesterday, deterring the less intrepid (ha!) painters. Three of us were silly enough to go anyway. I went just to see if I could paint in the rain. I have no idea why the other two artists persisted. It seems like anyone with any experience would have stayed home to paint in the comfort of their studio or perhaps just gone to the movies.
I parked my pickup where I could sit under the hatchback, and set up for the morning. My shelter was less than perfect, with drips coming through the seam of the hatch on either side of me. I caught one steady drip in an extra paint-thinner bowl, emptying it frequently, and I put a towel under the other drip.
The subject? My nemesis, more boats! The agreed upon location (nobody asked me) was Fisherman’s Boatyard, in Freeport, Florida. Shapes, I told myself, you are just painting shapes. It doesn’t matter what the shapes are, it’s just shapes. Except the shapes probably ought to look a little bit like boats. The colors were dimmed by the cloudy skies, and the boat-shapes were sharp against the trees on the other side of the creek.
I painted for 2½ hours before the chill crept up from my freezing wet feet into all of my bones. My painting was unfinished when I stopped, lacking the top of the tree line, the standards supporting the boats, and the catamaran’s mast wires. So I took a few shots with my iPhone to help me remember what the scene looked like, to finish it in my studio.
The three of us met for a country lunch at the local restaurant. It was a good 40 minutes and two cups of hot tea before I was warm again.
One of the other artists mentioned that she didn’t care for blogs, that she felt that people don’t have time to read a blog, and it would be a better use of an artist’s time to paint instead of blogging. I considered her opinion, and realized that the primary reason I blog is because I want to preserve my own feelings and thoughts about the process. If others enjoy it, fine, but as long as I offer the option to bypass the blog and go straight to my galleries, then hopefully I can please most everyone.
Below are a few photographs from this weekend’s jaunt in one of our coastal dune lake state parks, Camp Helen. I faded and increased the contrast on the first three and I increased the saturation and the detail on the fourth one. Click on photo for larger image.
Most of my images and paintings are available for purchase. Contact me if you are interested. — Joan Vienot
I am starting to see in color. That may sound strange, but the fact is that most of the time in my normal everyday activity, I hardly pay attention to color. When I was focusing on figure drawing, I occasionally used color, but for the most part I was focused on line, shape, and value, usually rendering the whole piece just using a black-white value scale. Now that I am painting again, I am noticing for example, when a white railing is picking up the blue of the sky, or how intense a green becomes when it is contrasted with red. I am finding that much of what I think I am seeing as different tones of a color are actually the same color which looks different depending on what color is next to it. I am particularly challenged by all the greens I see, when landscape painting. If I try to mix an exact shade of green, it often seems muddy compared to what I actually see. Who knew, that Einstein’s theory that everything is relative applies to painting as well as nuclear physics, that the better way to achieve a color is to find the color next to it which gives it the quality I want. Resisting the temptation to launch into that as a metaphor for life, I’ll instead move on to my adventures in plein air painting over the past week. Last week we painted at Nick’s Restaurant, and I bemoaned the fact that I know very little about boats. The next day I decided to take another run at the featured boat, using my photo references, and came up with the piece at top right. It was the little paprika-colored spots of rust washing out from the old nails in the hull, that gave the greens and turquoise the punch I wanted. So I wafted a little of that color into the foreground grasses too.
This week is the largest of the spring-break tourist weeks in the beach resort communities of Panama City Beach, Seagrove Beach, and Destin, FL. So when the announcement came that the plein air painters would be meeting at the docks again in Destin, I knew the drive would take all the fun out of the adventure, so I opted to paint from my dock in my back yard. I had thought I would be painting my view of the creek leading into Tucker Bayou, but when I looked upstream, the color of the bayou grasses intrigued me. My initial 6″ x 6″ study, left, did nothing for me by way of planning my painting, but rather served more like a singer doing la-la-La-LA-La-la-la scales to warm up her voice before performing.
I needed a warm-up! The temperature was less than 40 and the wind was chilly. But it was a clear spring day with bright light. I roughed in the composition and then went to work on the trees at the edge of the Bayou. The spring gold-greens of the new leaves contrasted with the rich, dark pines and the shadows underneath. I resisted the impulse to paint the shadows a colorless dark value, which has the potential to suck the life out of a painting. Instead I darkened my green shadows with a touch of the same deep red I used to tint the pink flowering trees in my distant neighbor’s yard. I stuggled with the grasses, because the shiny highlights were picking up every color of the palette. Uncertain whether I was just making a mudpie, I plowed onward through the painting, until I was satisfied I had achieved an approximate similarity to the colors I was seeing. My two cats initially were scared by my unusual activity on the dock, but they grew braver throughout the 2 hours, wrapping their tails around my legs as I scratched some final textures and highlights into the grasses and the tree trunks. Upon completion, I stood my painting up against a piling and stepped back from it only to have a bitter wind gust blow it onto its face, requiring repair where it had landed on an edge of a dock board. Remembering the worm crawling across my finished painting two weeks ago, I decided that paintings are not really finished until restored from an inevitable mishap at the very end.
The day before yesterday I was excited to find a delivery frames on my package stand as I entered my driveway, so even though it was late, I spent the next couple of hours framing my earlier paintings done in November and December of last year, when I first resumed oil painting after a 30-year hiatus. Looking at them, I realized that I am growing by leaps and bounds. The rate of my improvement surprises me. I thought I would progress more slowly, and even be tempted to give up, because oil painting so intimidated me, no doubt from my tortured efforts during and shortly after college. I find I am enjoying the time limitation of plein air painting, which while still allowing for tortured effort, does not allow it to continue for very long, with only a two hour window before the light changes so much that further attempts at capturing an impression are not worthwhile.
I continue to play with my photography. I am learning about photo-editing, taking a class in Photoshop Elements from Jackie Ward at Northwest Florida State College, South Walton Center. She is teaching us what Photoshop can do. It’s difficult for me to remember. My poor brain may be overloaded, trying to run my business, my day-job, the one that pays the bills, while I try to learn more about photography and painting. I still enjoy the easy editing that can be done with Snapseed App on my iPhone. Yesterday I paddled my canoe on the Bayou with a dear friend, a fellow photographer. You can’t take a bad picture at sunset! Most of my editing of my iPhoneography consists of simply straightening the horizon line and perhaps a little cropping, but I had some fun dramatizing and saturating the photo below.
Most of my images are available for purchase. Contact me if you are interested. — Joan Vienot
Today the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters painted at Nick’s Restaurant on the north side of the Choctawhatchee Bay. When I first arrived, one other painter was already setting up. I walked around the derelict boats and dinghies decorating the grounds, following the Bay beach to the inlet and then up around the aged structure of the restaurant itself, shooting photos with my iPhone as I went. A painting could be made from everywhere I looked. I settled on the old boats lined up in the front yard. By the time I had gotten my easel set-up and made a preliminary pencil-on-paper sketch to try to lay-out my composition, about 10 to 12 more artists had arrived.
Most boats around here are white, but the boat in the foreground was red, and that color was the element that interested me. I painted nearly every other part of the picture first, saving the red boat for last. But as I worked, I cursed my choice of subject matter, having once again chosen to paint boats, which I know almost nothing about. My biggest struggle was with the shape of the boat in the background. The cabin morphed into an odd shaped roof over what I presume might have been sleeping quarters, but which now sported a gaping hole, a mate to the hole in the deck at the back of the boat. Its one redeeming feature, besides its mass, was the turquoise color of the bottom.
A tiny sliver of the Bay on the far left, and a nondescript structure in the background were the only hints at the location, but anyone who has eaten at Nick’s will recognize the boats. The sandy beach was dotted with little grasses and vines, and I took liberty with that part of the painting, bringing in a few taller grasses, to break up the large area of plain beach, and to repeat a few reds.
When we lined up our paintings for the critique before lunch, I again was amazed and overwhelmed by the talent in the group. One of the artists made a comment that caught my curiosity. He was expressing frustration about a car pulling up and blocking his view, after he had already mixed all his colors and was ready to paint. I have never approached my painting that way, instead mixing my colors as I go. I may have to watch him paint sometime, to see how that works.
Most of my images are available for purchase. Contact me if you are interested. — Joan Vienot
Point Washington resident Joan Vienot is on the path to fulfilling a lifelong desire of becoming a professional artist. After 45 years in the aquatic industry and only occasionally investing time, Vienot is now dedicating two days a week to creating fine art.
Growing up in the small town of Brighton, Colorado, Vienot always enjoyed drawing and painting, and knew at a very young age it was something she wanted to pursue.
“The first publication of my art was when I was seven years old. My second-grade teacher asked the class to illustrate and write stories about astronaut John Glenn circling the earth. Many of my classmates’ stories were printed in the local newspaper, but mine was the only drawing published. I was so embarrassed that my story didn’t merit publication, not realizing how special it was for my drawing to be recognized,” said Vienot.
Vienot’s passion for creating has now fully evolved into lush, colorful interpretations of our surroundings. Landscapes, figure drawings, still life and photography are just a few of the mediums Vienot has facilitated to create remarkable works of art.
Be on the lookout for Vienot’s work in local galleries in the near future. Meanwhile, you just might find her plein air painting one of our scenic landscapes in and around Walton County.
Vienot has a BA in Fine Art from the University of Northern Colorado. In addition to teaching art to high school students, she is involved as a volunteer for the arts in Walton County, serving on the board of directors for the Cultural Arts Alliance and co-chairing the A+Art Committee for CAA, which showcases member artists’ work at the South Walton Center of Northwest Florida State College.
On Saturday I joined at least 16 other painters at Grayton Beach State Park, in Grayton Beach, Florida, to participate in the local effort for the Oil Painters of America 8th annual Great Paintout. It was my first try at plein air oil painting in perhaps as much as 30 years, but something I have been intending to do for a long time. I have occasionally painted outdoors using watercolors or sketched with pencil or ink, but the last time I remember painting the landscape with oils, plein air, was while on a camping vacation in St. Augustine, Florida, in 1978. That day, so long ago, was memorable for being so hot and buggy. By contrast, Saturday was the perfect day for plein air painting, being shaded by the park pavilion, and virtually bug-free.
So what’s the big deal about plein air painting, you may wonder. En plein air is French for “in open air”, a phrase used to describe painting an outdoors scene “from life”, while actually looking at it, in the often changing light and weather conditions. It requires intense concentration and awareness, and is much more challenging than painting from a photographic reference in a studio. It appeals to me in much the same way that figure drawing appeals to me, because time is a limiting factor, so one must work fairly quickly, finishing or very nearly finishing the painting in one session. For that reason, and because I felt so out of practice, I chose to paint on small 8″ x 10″ canvas boards. I managed to make a passable effort on two boards.
To a certain extent, this was a trial run for me, to see how my equipment worked, and to start remembering how to paint. I used just 3 brushes — two to paint with and a third one to sign my name, and a palette knife to scratch out some bush branches. The brush I used for most of both paintings was a Winsor-Newton #6 round, sable, I think. It worked better than the stiff bristle brushes I used a month ago in my first effort at returning to oils, in the workshop I blogged about on September 9. My new Coulter System easel and palette/box that I purchased last summer worked like a charm. I used my 35-year old Grumbacher “Pre-tested” and Rembrandt oil paints from my days doing demonstrations as a high school art teacher. My oil painting medium is about that old too, and while the paints are still good, I’m pretty sure the medium is degraded. The paintings I did Saturday are dry today, one day later, but the painting I did a month ago in the workshop, in which I used more medium, is still a little sticky.
The sand dunes at Grayton Beach are made of sand is so fine that it crunches underfoot like dry snow, and it even looks like snow in the bright sunlight, thanks to the clear crystals of quartz that make up the majority of its composition. The scrubby oak bushes and half-buried scrub pines round over the tops of the dunes, shaped away from the Gulf of Mexico by the salty seabreeze. Palmetto bushes and dune marsh grasses dot the lower dunes, fringed this time of year by various yellow wildflowers that some of us locals refer to collectively as goldenrod. I never got around to painting as much as I would like to have, never adding in the finer details of shadows and sea oats. I might go back in and put in those details, but the photos I have posted here are exactly as I finished on Saturday morning.
After we painted for about 3 hours, we all got together and looked at each others’ works, and we ooo’d and ah’d before giving feedback. It was an excellent critique, with the masters of the craft commenting on areas of paintings that worked well, and areas that were challenging, and even discussing compositional tricks, like pointing out places where something in a painting might need to recede, made difficult by being light in value. (Typically, light shapes and colors tend to advance, and darker forms recede, in a picture plane. That can be overcome by muting or graying the lighter colors, shapes tending to become less bright as they recede, the way that we see things.) Everyone was kind to me, not being critical at all, but I admit that I gave fair warning, protecting my vulnerability by explaining that I had just returned to oil painting again about a month ago, and that this was my 2nd effort in 30 years. That was a fairly clear request to cut me some slack, I think. The regular plein air painters go out every Wednesday, so if I start coming regularly, I’m sure they will feel more free to make helpful comments, and I will not be so scared to hear them.
Some of the artists who were there have their work online:
I have added an Artist’s Statement to my Bio page. I will be exhibiting a few pieces of my work in the A+Art Committee member exhibit at Okaloosa Walton State College next spring. The committee functions under the umbrella of the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County (Florida), selecting artists and organizing shows in the lobby area of the South Walton OWSC business office about 4 or 5 times a year. This year was our first year, and we decided to avoid any appearance of self-promotion this first year. But several members of the committee are accomplished artists, so we decided to have a show of committee members’ works for a couple of months next year.
Following is my Artist’s Statement, at least for today, 11/14/11. No doubt it will evolve.
Joan Vienot – Artist’s Statement
The greatest pleasure for me as an artist is the capture of the present moment, a little piece of Now. The challenge is greatest when the subject is the human figure, where the length of a pose is limited by the live model’s ability to remain motionless for any duration. Very little time is available for retractions or corrections, so my marks on the paper have to be certain and authoritative. Every pose is a challenge of my mastery. Similarly, plein air painting requires intense focus and present moment awareness in order to execute a scene before the light changes radically. In both cases, the subject must be portrayed in fairly general terms, with only enough detail to lend unique identity and a bit of atmosphere. I rarely do anything more than minimal correcting, or perhaps heightening of contrast, when I get back to my studio, preferring to let my interpretation of the moment stand on its own. My approach might result in what some may call mistakes in proportion or perspective, but I think accuracy should be subordinate to my effort to convey the essence of the subject in a short amount of time.
When time is so fleeting that I could never capture something in either dry or wet media, then I resort to my camera to produce a photograph, which of course records the quintessential moment in time.
My favorite subject for drawing is the human figure. People’s lives and experiences create lines on their faces and sags on their bodies, and their posture bears witness to their youth or to their years. The nude figure in particular, with the façade of clothing removed, reveals the essence of a person’s physical existence and might even hint at her spirit. Most of my figure drawings are of females simply because most of the models I’ve had opportunity to draw are female. My figure drawings are very simply my personal expression of the beauty and complexity of the human form and my efforts toward mastery of that expression.